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A Broch is an Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure of a type found only in Scotland. Brochs include some of the most sophisticated examples of drystone architecture ever created, and belong to the classification "complex Atlantic Roundhouse" devised by Scottish archaeologists in the 1980s. Their origin is a matter of some controversy. The theory that they were defensive military structures is not accepted by many modern archaeologists (see the 'general references' below), while the alternative notion that they were farmhouses is dismissed by some others. Although most stand alone in the landscape, some examples exist of brochs surrounded by clusters of smaller dwellings. Brochs were almost certainly originally roofed.


Origin and definition

The word broch is derived from Lowland Scots 'brough', meaning (among other things) fort. In the mid-19th century Scottish antiquaries called brochs 'burgs', after Old Norse borg, with the same meaning. Place names in Scandinavian Scotland such as Burgawater and Burgan show that O.N. borg was the original word used for these structures in the north. Brochs are often referred to as 'duns' in the west. The antiquaries began to use the spelling 'broch' in the 1870s.

A precise definition for the word has proven to be elusive. Brochs are the most spectacular of a complex class of roundhouse buildings found throughout "Atlantic Scotland". The Shetland Amenity Trust lists about 120 sites in Shetland as candidate brochs, perhaps an overestimate, while The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland identifies a total of 571 candidate broch sites throughout the country. Researcher Euan MacKie has proposed a much smaller total for Scotland of 104.[1]

The origin of brochs is a subject of continuing research. Sixty years ago most archaeologists believed that brochs, usually regarded as castles, were built by immigrants who had been displaced and pushed northward first by the intrusions of Belgic tribes into what is now south-east England towards the end of the second century BC, and later by the Roman invasion of southern Britain from AD 43 onwards. Yet there is now little doubt that the hollow-walled broch tower was purely an invention from what is now modern Scotland, or that even the kinds of pottery found within them that most resembled south Britain styles were local hybrid forms. The first of the modern review articles on the subject (MacKie 1965)[2] did not, as is commonly believed, propose that brochs were built by immigrants, but rather that a hybrid culture of a small number of immigrants with the native population of the Hebrides produced them in the first century BC, basing them on earlier, simpler promontory forts. This view contrasted for example with that of Sir Lindsay Scott, who argued[3]—following Childe (1935)[4]—for a wholesale migration into Atlantic Scotland of people from south-west England.

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